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Maimonides (Jewish Encounters Series) Paperback – August 26, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Maimonides, one of the preeminent personalities of medieval Jewish history, was a jurist, philosopher, expert in Jewish law, physician at the court of Saladin and a respected and dedicated communal leader. Given all that, it's difficult to understand the decision to present Maimonides's legacy primarily through the lens of his work as a physician. The 12th century was a time of stagnation in the history of medicine, and the author himself concedes that Maimonides contributed very little that was new or innovative to the field. By contrast, his jurisprudential magnum opus, the Mishne Torah, constituted a groundbreaking work in its own day and continues to be authoritative almost a millennium later. Although Nuland acknowledges this in a chapter on Maimonides's religious scholarship, it is dwarfed by the overarching concern with medicine—which seems the primary interest of Nuland, a clinical professor of surgery at Yale. The author does a serviceable job of stitching together this slight, popular biography of the larger-than-life Maimonides, but his writing is marred by an overwrought prologue and some glib generalizations. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Reputedly the greatest figure in Judaism after his namesake, Moses Maimonides (1138 [not, as long supposed, 1135]-1204) was also a great physician. That second identity (he has a third as a philosopher, though no one now comprehends his Guide for the Perplexed, and a fourth as a judge) furnishes the surgeon--author of the National Book Award-winning How We Die (1994) entree into the life of this medieval intellectual titan. Like disproportionately many Jewish sons, Maimonides became a doctor in obedience, Nuland thinks, to the Lord's injunction to his people to choose life. In chapters centered on Maimonides' travels, three great books, and medical papers, Nuland argues that that obedience shows in more than Maimonides' medical career. Maimonides was devoted to sustaining the Jews as a people, and out of that, to human life generally. If he was otherwise a physician of his time, bound by the authority of Hippocrates and Galen, he believed that reason and observation should also inform prescription. A little gem of intellectual biography. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Encounters Series
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; 1 Reprint edition (August 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805211500
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805211504
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,406,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sherwin B. Nuland is Clinical Professor of Surgery at Yale University School of Medicine and a Fellow at Yale's Institute for Social and Policy Studies. He is the author of over ten books, including the National Book Award-winning, HOW WE DIE: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter, an inquiry into the causes and modes of death that spent 34 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. In addition he is a contributor to leading publications including the New Yorker, the New Republic, and the New York Review of Books.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Brooklyngal on September 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
It's an interesting read, but Nuland cites absolutely no sources, a problem when you have a subject with as much scholarship - much of it conflicted - as there is on Maimonides. One spot where this actually leads to him to make a pretty egregious error is when he cites the Maimonidean 13 'principles of faith.' Nuland correctly states that Maimonides writes these principles in his mishnaic commentary, but he then proceeds to give a word for word translation of a watered down version of these principles that appears in all Orthodox prayer books. This is highly problematic because the anonymously authored (not by Maimonides!) prayerbook version often inaccurately summarizes or even 'censors' Maimonides' statements in his commentary, and Nuland doesn't even bother noting that or even crediting the anonymous author as a source! He disingenuously makes it appear that this is his own correct paraphrase of Maimonides' formulation - a total inaccurate impression. I find this an alarming sign of Nuland's lack of in-depth research or even understanding of this important topic. I would not recommend this book to anyone who wishes to actually understand Maimonides' life and works.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on December 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Sherwin B. Nuland opens this book by explaining how he finally came to after much discouragement write this book on the great Jewish thinker, halachist, communal leader and physician Moses Maimonedes, commonly known as the Rambam. Nuland's reluctance is understandable as he is not a scholar of Jewish texts, nor one deeply versed in Jewish thought. He is a prominent well- known highly esteemed physician and writer. And a good share of the book is devoted to understanding the Rambam as a physician. In the course of this Nuland provides a brief historical sketch of the development of Medicine from Galen to and through the Middle Ages. In the course of this he makes it clear that the Rambam was like all the great Medieval physicians not really a medical innovator. The Rambam was an extraordinarily dedicated physician whose observational powers were complemented by his vast knowledge of the extant medical literature. Nuland quotes the famous letter of the Rambam in which he details his exhausting schedule as physician including his work at Court and his work with the poorer Muslim population and with the Jewish community. Nuland also describes in some detail the medical writings of Rambam, including the Aphorisms and guidebooks which served a wider public to the dawn of the ear of Modern Medicine.

The Rambam turned to Medicine only after a great personal tragedy the loss at sea of his younger brother David. David had provided the material means for the Rambam to be totally devoted to scholarship. Rambam went into depression for over a year until finally emerging with the decision to practice medicine.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Virginia J. Prickett on January 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The great philosopher, physician and leader is brought vividly to life by Sherwin Nuland, himself a writer-physician. Although this is a relatively brief book, it touches on all the points of Maimonides's life with authority and clarity. Nuland positions his subject's writings within the issues of his time and ours. With a well-annotated bibliography this is a fine entry into a fascinating life.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. Blum on November 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Maimonidies' two biggest contributions to civilization were his religious writings, and medical practice. As author Sherwin Nuland himself points out, Maimonidies' truest, lasting legacy are his religious writings. Yet probably because he himself is a doctor, Sherwin Nuland emphasizes the medical Maimonidies at the expense of not giving the religious Maimonidies his proper due. When reading this book, Maimonidies sounded like quite an ordinary man, nothing special, and the truth is, as a doctor he was nothing special. Yet in religious circles, he is a giant. This specialness of Maimonidies was lost in this short biography of this great man.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jerome A. Hoffman on March 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Nuland "biography" of Maimonides focusses mostly on the sage as a physician, with much of the rest of his life sketchy at best. In fact, the first chapter virtually ignores the subject and instead describes the author's views on why so many Jews became physicians over the centuries. That being said, Dr. Nuland's book is well written, gives historical insights into medicine in the 12th century period, and is easy to read. I have not read any of the other biographies of Maimonides, several of which are cited by Dr. Nuland, and therefore cannot judge whether the paucity of details of Maimonides life presented other than medical is a intentional or the result of the actual absence of data.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steve Reina VINE VOICE on December 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Nuland, himself a Jewish physician, was understandably reluctant to engage in doing the biography of perhaps the ultimate Jewish physician of all time: Moses Ben Maimon also referred to as Rambam or Maimonides.

His reluctance was understandable on a number of levels. First, Maimonides was of pronounced expertise in the healing arts. Not only the author of ten medical books, he had through dint of skill managed to elevate himself to being court physician at the court of Saladin.

Second, for Jewish thought (and derivatively for western thought itself) Maimonides was significant for his recognition of and attempt to deal with the conflict between the canonized precepts of faith and the unanswered questions of science. His "Guide for the Perplexed" itself perplexing is an attempt in some ways an attempt at striking a balance.

However, in both ways Nuland managed to briefly make the material accessible to the reader.

And significantly also, Nuland managed to connect the reader with Maimonides humanity...his early difficulties with learning, his grief at the loss of his brother and his joy in parenthood.

In this way, Nuland managed to create and even more iconic figure because rather than putting him a pedistal, Nuland put Maimonides right next to you...all the more human and therefore all the more relevant.
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